The American Red Cross is under pressure from its parent movement, the International Red Cross, to put an end to its policy of accepting tobacco money over concerns that this could mar the reputation of the global humanitarian movement as its U.S. arm continues to accept money from tobacco companies
Some health advocates said that the group's acceptance of money from an industry that produces a product that can cause death contradicts with its mandate to help the vulnerable. The International Red Cross has not been accepting donations from tobacco companies since 2008, which aligns with its recently launched program that strongly campaigns against smoking.
Most of the organization's national affiliates do not accept tobacco donations either. Its U.S. member, one of the America's largest charities, however, and about six other countries including Russia, Vietnam and Germany do.
Publicly available documents such as press releases, annual reports and tax records suggest that since 2001, the American Red Cross and its affiliates have taken no less than $12 million from the likes of Philip Morris International, Altria Group and Reynolds American.
Reynolds American said that its foundation and subsidiaries have donated over $1 million in the last five years. Philip Morris International, on the other hand, has given $123,000 since 2008. Altria likewise said that it has been donating to the organization for decades now and is contributing $500,000 per year to the American Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program.
Matthias Schmale, from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that officials have already talked with the officials of its U.S. arm asking them to no longer accept funding from tobacco companies. Guidelines by the international body are notably not binding on its affiliates.
"We have been very clear about the potential reputational damage not just for them but for all of us," Schmale said. "So far we have not taken the route of public condemnation."
A spokesperson for the American Red Cross did not comment on its dispute with the parent movement but said that the U.S. charity was happy to take any funds supporting its efforts in assisting disaster victims.
Anti-tobacco advocates hopes that once the U.S. group gives in to the pressure and decides to stop taking tobacco donations, its move could also prompt other nonprofit organizations to rejects millions of dollars of money from tobacco companies.